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Psychoanalysis and Philosophy of Mind

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Of the topics found in psychoanalytic theory it is Freud's philosophy of mind that is at once the most contentious and enduring. Psychoanalytic theory makes bold claims about the significance of unconscious mental processes and the wish-fulfilling activity of the mind, citing their importance for understanding the nature of dreams and explaining both normal and pathological behaviour. However, since Freud's initial work, both modern psychology and philosophy have had much to say about the merits of Freudian thinking. Developments in psychology, philosophy, and psychoanalysis raise new challenges and questions concerning Freud's theory of mind. This book addresses the psychoanalytic concept of mind in the 21st century via a joint scientific and philosophical appraisal of psychoanalytic theory. It provides a fresh critical appraisal and reflection on Freudian concepts, as well as addressing how current evidence and scientific thinking bear upon Freudian theory. The book centres upon the major concepts in psychoanalysis, including the notion of unconscious mental processes and wish-fulfilment and their relationship to dreams, fantasy, attachment processes, and neuroscience.

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Chapter One - Wish-Fulfilment Revisited

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Tamas Pataki

Freudian wish-fulfilment

In the first edition of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a) Freud introduced a theory according to which dreams, some neurotic symptoms and delusions are wish-fulfilments.1 The scope of his investigations quickly expanded and he eventually concluded that not only dreams and symptoms but also phantasy (or fantasy) such as daydream, some unconscious phantasy, other neurotic and some psychotic symptoms—delusions, hallucinations—jokes and art, slips of the tongue, bungled actions, magical or omnipotent thinking, illusions such as religion and aspects of morality and social organisation were also wish-fulfilling or, recognising that action can fall short of its objective, attempts at wish-fulfilment.2

It is evident that Freud's conception of wish-fulfilment (henceforth: FWT), exemplified in the phenomena listed above, cannot be the same as our ordinary conception of what it is for a wish to be fulfilled, and I will outline its distinctive features presently. Although FWT was clearly a fundamental concept for Freud, its novelty, scope and implications have been underappreciated, and it has received little explicit critical attention in the psychoanalytic literature. Nevertheless, it remains fundamental to the psychoanalytic understanding of many of the phenomena Freud had identified, though often appearing under different guises: for example, as omnipotent phantasy; as underlying defences such as projective identification; in “actualization” in the transference, acting out and symptom (Sandler 1976, 1989). We shall see that even if Freud was only approximately right about the nature and scope of FWT, then it must also form an important compartment of any philosophy of mind that seeks to understand irrational action and belief formation in Intentional3 or common-sense psychological terms, and, indeed, it now seems increasingly likely in neuroscientific terms as well. This chapter revisits Freud's conception, locates its significance in clinical and theoretical contexts, and examines some recent philosophical and scientific work bearing on it. Several disputative and polemical remarks are included in the endnotes.

 

Chapter Two - The Significance of Consilience: Psychoanalysis, Attachment, Neuroscience, and Evolution

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Jim Hopkins

From shortly before the start of this century students of the mind began increasingly to relate psychoanalysis to both developmental psychology and neuroscience. A recent example is a neuroimaging study by ten collaborating authors on the effectiveness and mode of action of psychoanalytic therapy in treating depression (Buchheim et al., 2012). This attempts to co-ordinate converging research from a number of fields—including psychoanalytic theory, attachment research, and neuroscience—to relate the way depressed patients have improved during psychoanalytic therapy to hypothesised alterations in their internal models of their emotional bonds with their parents.

Although such convergences have been accumulating over many years, they have as yet been given little attention in overall assessments of psychoanalytic theory, particularly in the philosophy of science. So in what follows I want to consider the consiliences upon which this study draws in more detail, and discuss what they mean for the understanding of psychoanalysis more generally. Research of this kind began in disciplines that were regarded as separate from one another, and is conducted in theoretical vocabularies that—like most human concepts—remain distinct and irreducible. But we are now well aware that radically different concepts or vocabularies can constitute compatible ways of understanding the one world—including our bodies, brains, and the minds these realise—that we describe in terms of them. So let us begin by sketching a framework for thinking about explanation, confirmation and disconfirmation that may facilitate comparisons among irreducibly different theories in different but connected fields.

 

Chapter Three - Freud's Aesthetics: Artists, Art and Psychoanalysis

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Michael Levine

Freud's studies of…artists are primarily analyses of behaviour and inner motivations. The focus is…not upon problems of art…the artist is a gifted and sensitive person, sometimes neurotic and sometimes not, but governed by the same inner forces that rule the rest of mankind.

—Fraiberg, 1956, p. 87*

Introduction

In part one of this chapter, preliminary issues concerning “Freud's aesthetics”1 are discussed. What is it that he is trying to do and how does he go about it? Freud's basic ideas about understanding art and the artistic process in relation to the artist's psychology are explained and a few common criticisms and misconceptions are examined. Here are two. The first is that if there are exceptions to Freud's claim that art is orectic, driven by desire and wish-fulfilment and functions so as to satisfy certain psychological needs of artists (and audiences), then one will have shown Freud's views about art to be mistaken (even outrageous). The second objection is based on the assumption that we need to take artists at their word. Thus, if artists tell us that the reason why they pursue art is not to fulfil unconscious wishes, negotiate the demands of reality, and satisfy other desires they would not otherwise be able to satisfy, then it is not. Were these objections raised by those with little more than a passing interest in psychoanalysis then perhaps they wouldn't be interesting. But when professional philosophers (e.g., Grünbaum) and distinguished art critics and curators (e.g., Fry) raise a version of these, then a response may be called for—even if the objections remain superfluous.2

 

Chapter Four - Beyond the Philosophy of the (Unconscious) Mind: The Freudian Cornerstone as Scientific Theory, a Cult, and a Way of Talking

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Vesa Talvitie

The scientific status of psychoanalysis may be approached from numerous perspectives—methodology, empirical studies supporting and contradicting psychoanalytic claims, the relations between psychoanalytic and other theories, and so on. In terms of the philosophy of mind, the unconscious is a self-evident and actually rather appealing viewpoint: on one hand Freud's idea(s) about the unconscious, “the cornerstone of psychoanalysis”, still characterises the theories and practice of psychoanalysis. On the other hand we find that from the 1980s onwards there has been extensive research around the topic of the unconscious (unconscious processes, implicit memory, procedural knowledge, etc.), outside the scope of psychoanalysis. It has been argued that those studies both support (for example, Westen, 1998) and contradict (for example, Talvitie, 2009) Freud's insights. This kind of situation indicates that there is not only room for philosophical considerations but also a real need for them.

 

Chapter Five - Unconscious Knowing: Psychoanalytic Evidence in Support of a Radical Epistemic View

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Linda A. W. Brakel

Introduction

In most standard contemporary work in philosophy of mind and epistemology, knowledge is considered some form of true belief. (See Armstrong, 1973, p. 137; Goldman, 1975, p. 111; Margolis, 1973, p. 3; and also Williamson, 2000, p. 2, who emphatically does not share this view but notes it historically.) Until the publication of the Gettier cases (Gettier, 1963) this issue seemed largely settled with justified true belief regarded as the type of belief that simply was knowledge. (See Danto, 1968, p. 73; Shope, 1983, pp. 10–11). After Edmund Gettier (1963) presented cases in which even justified true belief could not suffice for knowledge,1 the status of justified true belief as knowledge did indeed change. But, interestingly, the quest to explain knowledge in terms of belief did not change. Belief continued to be held among the conditions necessary, but alas not sufficient for knowledge (Goldman, 1975, pp. 111–112; Margolis, 1973, p. 3). Thus, according to Timothy Williamson (2000), for the last four decades many epistemologists “have expended vast efforts attempting to state exactly what kind of true belief knowledge is” (p. 2).2 Williamson holds that philosophers of mind similarly “marginalize the category of knowledge” insofar as “belief is what matters for the understanding of the mind”—belief being the mental attitude that aims at the truth, and truth obtaining only when the truth conditions of the belief match those of the world (p. 2).3 For these philosophers too, then, knowledge not only entails belief but is also “merely a peculiar kind of true belief” (p. 2), one requiring at least two additions to the mental state of belief—first, truth, as is needed also for true belief, and then “other more elusive features” (p. 3).4 Thus both for epistemologists attempting to specify the essence of knowledge and belief, and for philosophers of mind attempting to gain knowledge of the mind, belief is maintained as the foundational attitude, conceptually prior to knowledge.

 

Chapter Six - In Defence of Unconscious Mentality

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Simon Boag

While no one would object to the claim that we may be ignorant of things in either the world or in the minds of others, the claim that we can be ignorant of our own mental processes seems to pose conceptual difficulties. The claim that we can know unconsciously appears to some to be self-contradictory: knowing entails consciousness, and so unconscious knowing appears to be an oxymoron. Accordingly, when nineteenth century writers began discussing unconscious mental processes, such views were met with scepticism and even derision (see Klein, 1977). Nevertheless, not only did certain theorists embrace unconscious mentality, they made it the centrepiece of their theories, and none more so than Sigmund Freud. Freud's approach to mentality, however, complicates matters further. Not only could mental processes be unconscious; mental processes could be prevented from becoming known, and once unconscious were believed to behave differently from conscious ones (Freud, 1912g, 1915).

 

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